My boyfriend and I recently broke up. That is to say, I broke up with him, but it was mostly mutual. And by that I mean it will be mutual in the future when he realizes we weren’t right for each other. It’s just that we’re not quite there yet. This is how I know.
In late July, exactly one month after the date of the untimely break-up that occurred shortly after he’d finished undergrad and followed me to Brooklyn, which happened to coincide with the date of the True Blood debut, I received a call from the illustrious ex-boyfriend. After contemplating the screen of my Droid until the cymbal-ridden ringtone became unbearably grating, I answered the phone with a degree of enthusiasm that straddled the line between the squeaky, “Hey there, acquaintance I just bumped into on the street after months of not seeing each other even though we live on the same block”-friendly and “I’m trying to mask the awkward with exaggeratedly high decibel levels”-friendly. Needless to say, I kept my cool.
“Hey!” he responded with identical cadence and inflection. I should have taken this as a premonition of doom.
He had a landed a fancy job in the suburbs at a hedge fund that was big on yoga and hefty salaries. As a requisite, he’d be moving to Connecticut and had signed a lease that very day for a studio that cost exactly twice my monthly rent. As we chit-chatted and hit a moderately relaxed rhythm of meaningless banter, I began to forget that this was the first contact with someone who probably hated me and was pretending not to in an effort to salvage all that we’d once had. I recalled the drunken sidewalk make-out sessions teetering into the nearby foliage that you can only have in college. I remembered fancy dinners at cozy New American bistros we went to courtesy of Restaurant.com discounts printed on 8.5 x 11” computer lab paper while we pretended to be grown-ups, before we realized that being grown-up would be so, so hard. I considered the sweet practicality of said ex-boyfriend, the times he’d assented to watch seven straight episodes of Sex and the City when I was feeling mopey on a Sunday afternoon. The time he left me a voicemail saying he’d hoped I was still awake to talk to him, but that now he hoped I was sound asleep—I needed it. The three Christmases in a row he bought me the same iPod because I immediately broke it every time.
Through the speaker, I heard him say, “So I was wondering if it would be okay if I got you an early birthday present.”
“Absolutely not,” is what I remember saying. “That would be completely inappropriate.”
This may not be true. It’s possible that I was curious about what said birthday present could be. Potentially, I was a bit more ambivalent in my assertion that accepting a gift from an ex would definitely not help the situation and could only hinder both of us from moving on and ceasing our attachment. Unfortunately, we’ll never know, since just hours later, I deleted the text history from my phone in yet another attempt to cut ties and foster a steadfast, albeit forced, sense of growth.
The following day, I returned home from work, unlocked and shoved open the perpetually swollen wooden door to my apartment, and cast my eyes upon an alluringly paperback-sized parcel from Amazon lying among the white envelopes strewn across the floor of the entrance. Since childhood, I’ve been unable to resist checking the address label to a package, despite the fact that now nearly every tiny brown box in the lobby has somehow belonged to my upstairs neighbor whose life I vicariously live – through her bubble mailers from Michigan and Vermont for which the only explanation is that she is undoubtedly an undercover drug lord. This time, the name on the cardboard was my own.
After complaining loudly and conspicuously to my roommate that the ex had explicitly ignored my request to not send any gifts and thereby minimally reducing my level of guilt, I scurried to my room and unsealed the clear duct tape.
The note read, “A book: pretty lame present for a pretty cool girl.”
My excitement mounted. Perhaps it was the new Jeffrey Eugenides. Maybe he’d seen my Facebook post on David Foster Wallace and sent along the hefty Pale King I’d meant to lose myself in, or at the very least keep on my nightstand. I’d even be thrilled if he’d thought to return my copy of Watchmen.
Inside, I found a dazzling, gold-leaf-edged, hardback copy of… Lolita.
“Hi. Got the book,” I texted. “Question—do you know what Lolita’s about?”
“Nope. Saw it on your Goodreads list, why?”
“Give it a Google. Goodnight!”
Sometimes clarity’s hard to come by. But sometimes, it comes in the form of a modernist Nabokov novel about pedophilia and when to stop romanticizing the past.